Progestogen-only pill

The progestogen-only pill (also known as ‘POP’) is a small tablet that releases progestogen.

Progestogen-only pill (POP): an overview

The progestogen-only pill (also known as "POP") is a small round tablet that releases a progestogen hormone. It has to be taken daily.

Almost half of all women take oral contraceptive pills as their primary method of contraception. POP is popular amongst women aged between 16 to 24.

You should choose a convenient time in the day to take your first pill, and continue to take it close to that time every day.

Watch this video for information on how to take POP.

You can book an appointment for contraception at axess here.

Lasts for
Bleeding pattern**

*for perfect use (effectiveness for perfect use is 91%)

**very variable, it may be heavier or lighter

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How to use it

You will need to take one pill every day. There are 28 pills per pack, and you do not take a break between packs. There are two different types of POP: ‘three-hour’ pills must be taken within the same three hour period every day, while ’twelve-hour’ pills must be taken within the same 12 hour period.

Why it works

The hormone in POP prevents pregnancy by thickening the mucus in the neck of the womb, so it is harder for sperm to penetrate the womb and reach an egg. In some women, POP prevents the ovaries from releasing an egg each month (ovulation). POP also works by thinning the lining of the womb, so there is less chance of a fertilised egg implanting into the womb.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will POP protect me from STIs?

POP does not protect you from STIs. You should use a condom as well if you think you are at risk of an STI.

What happens if I miss a pill?

You need to remember to take your pill every day. If you find that you often miss a pill, there are long lasting contraception options available.

All POPs should be taken at the same time each day with no breaks. There may be a pregnancy risk if pill are taken late or missed.

There are 3 types of POP and each have differing times for when they are considered a missed (or "late") pill:

  • A traditional POP is considered missed if it is taken more than three hours late
  • Desogestrel (DSG) POP is considered missed if it is taken more than 12 hours late
  • Drospirenone (DRSP) POP is considered missed if it is taken more than 24 hours late

How good POP is at preventing pregnancy depends on correct usage. The more pills that are missed, the more likely the pill will not be effective.

If you've missed your pill as described and you have had unprotected sex, you may need emergency contraception. You can use Lowdown's missed pill calculator to see if you require this.

If you are not sure what to do, continue to take your pill and use another method of contraception, such as condoms, and seek advice from your sexual health clinic or GP as soon as possible. If you are missing pills on a regular basis, an alternative method may be more suitable for you.

Can anything make POP less effective?

POP can become less effective at preventing pregnancy if:

  • You have vomiting and/or diarrhoea, as the pill may not be absorbed into your bloodstream
  • Some medicines make the progestogen-only pill less effective (including those used to treat epilepsy, HIV and TB, and the herbal medicine St. John's Wort). Ask your GP, clinician or pharmacist and read the information that comes with your medicine. Always tell your doctor that you are taking the progestogen-only pill if you are prescribed any medicines

You should always follow the instructions on the packet. If you have any questions about taking the pill, ask your clinician or pharmacist. It's important to take the pills as instructed to ensure they are effective.

Are there any side effects to taking POP?

Although serious side effects are not common, there are some risks associated with POP.

The common, short-term effects include:

  • Spotty skin
  • Breast tenderness
  • Nausea / vomiting or stomach upset
  • Weight change and headaches
  • Change to sex drive or mood.

These side effects should go away after a few months.

The common, long-term effects include:

  • Irregular bleeding patterns (you may have bleeding patterns that are lighter, heavier, more frequent, or stop altogether).

The rare, long-term effects include:

  • Some women may develop small fluid-filled cysts on their ovaries. These are not dangerous and do not usually need to be removed.

Some reports suggest that there may be a very small increased risk of breast cancer and cervical cancer on POP, but the pill does help to protect against other types of cancers, such as ovarian, colon and uterine cancers.

There is no evidence to suggest the pill causes infertility. Most women who have regular periods will find that their normal cycle will return within six months. Some women find that their usual cycles begin again very quickly after stopping, but for others it can take longer.

You may not be able to take POP if you have, or have had:

  • Heart disease or a stroke
  • Disease of the liver
  • Systemic lupus
  • Erytthematosus
  • Breast cancer.

If you have any concerns about taking POP, speak to your clinician.

What is the difference between the various brands of POP?

There are two types of POP:

  • Three hour Progestogen-only pill must which be taken within three hours of the same time every day. Common brands include: Femulen, Micronor, Norgeston and Noriday
  • The 12 hour Progestogen-only pill must be taken within 12 hours of the same time every day. Common brands include: Zelleta, Cerelle, Cerazette, Desogestrel.
How quickly does POP start protecting me against pregnancy?

If you start your pill in the first day of your cycle, it will be effective immediately.

If you start your pill at any other time on your cycle, you should use additional protection for 48 hours.

Can I take POP if I'm approaching menopause?

If you are healthy and there are no medical reasons for you to not take POP, you can take this until menopause, or until you are 55 years old.

I am currently on the pill with a three-hour lateness window, can I change to the 12 hour one?

Yes, you can easily change between pills.

Speak to your clinician for more information.

How often do I have to get a new supply of pills?

When you first start the pill, you may be given up to a 12 month supply to see how it suits you.

After that, you should go back to the healthcare professional to get new supplies.

Can I take POP after having a baby?

Any POP can be started at any time after childbirth, including immediately after delivery.

If you wish to avoid pregnancy, POP must be started by day 21 after delivery and it will be effective straight away with no need for additional contraception (e.g. condoms). If you start POP on day 21 or later, additional contraception is needed for two days.

Can I use POP while breastfeeding?

You can use POP while breastfeeding. Progestogen-only methods of contraception have no unwanted effects on milk production or the growth and development of your baby.

98% of women whose baby is less than six months old, are fully breastfeeding, and not having periods, will not get pregnant if not using contraception.

However, risk of pregnancy increases as breastfeeding decreases (stopping night feeds, bottle feeding top-ups, use of dummies, weaning), when periods return or baby is older than six months.

What if I vomit, or have diarrhoea, whilst taking the progestogen-only pill?

If you vomit within two hours of taking the progestogen-only pill, it may not have been fully absorbed into your bloodstream. Take another pill straight away and the next pill at your usual time.

If you don't take the replacement within three hours (or 12 hours for the 12-hour pill) of your normal time, use additional contraception, such as condoms, for two days.

If you continue to be sick, keep using another form of contraception while you're ill and for two days after recovering.

Very severe diarrhoea may also mean that the pill doesn't work properly. Keep taking your pills as normal, but use additional contraception, such as condoms, while you have diarrhoea and for two days after recovering.

Speak to your GP or contraception nurse, or call NHS 111, for more information, or if your sickness or diarrhoea continues.